Body of Work

For most people, murder, arson, and violent crime are the stuff of news stories and urban legend. But UT researchers who specialize in forensic work stare down death and sift through the ashes every day to help law enforcement solve mysteries and bring justice to victims. In this collection of stories, you’ll learn about the beginnings of the Body Farm, catch up on Forensic Anthropology Center research, and meet an alumnus who is the world’s leading expert on fire investigations.

Forensic Anthropology Center Celebrates 30th Anniversary

For three decades, the Forensic Anthropology Center has been on the forefront of forensic anthropology, turning out research and helping train law enforcement officials from around the country.

Research at a Glance

Since its beginnings, the Forensic Anthropology Center has been conducting research that continually pushes the boundaries of what the world knows about human decomposition. Take a look at three research projects that are helping to expand the world’s forensic knowledge.

The Making of the Body Farm

Bill Bass had an idea. A big idea. One that would change the face of forensics forever.

When Bass came to UT’s anthropology department in 1971, that idea had already taken root in his mind. His goal was to have the means and resources to estimate the time since death for deceased individuals—something on which very little research was available.

Early Pioneers

As the world’s first outdoor forensic anthropology research center, it’s only natural that the Body Farm has produced pioneering research, and researchers, in the forensics field.

Q&A with a Body Donor

For more than 35 years, the Forensic Anthropology Center has been accepting donations of bodies to be placed at the outdoor research facility. More than 100 donations are received every year, the remains of which become part of the William M. Bass Donated Skeletal Collection.

Finding the Truth in Flames

A building lies in ruins, its smoky shell all that remains. As firefighters turn their attention from battling the blaze to figuring out what caused it, their first call goes out to . . . an electrical engineer? It might seem an odd place to start, but when that engineer is UT’s David Icove, it makes perfect sense.

Meet Anthropology Alumni

P. Willey

From his first encounter with Bill Bass, P. Willey (’82) knew he wanted to become an anthropologist. You might even say his future was ordained.

Jennifer Love

A skeleton found in an abandoned house haunted Jennifer Love (’99 &’01) for months. As the forensic anthropologist for Shelby County, Tennessee, it was her job to piece together clues from those bones to figure out who this person was and return the remains to their family.

David Hunt

David Hunt (’83 & ’89) remembers visiting the Dickson Mounds State Museum, not far from his home in Washington, Illinois, as early as age six and being fascinated by the skeletons that had been excavated—some of them with arrow points still in them.

Illustration by Justin Helton (’07) of Status Serigraph

UT 225th anniversaryThese stories are part of the University of Tennessee’s 225th anniversary celebration. Volunteers light the way for others across Tennessee and throughout the world.

Learn more about UT’s 225th anniversary

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Bryan Hammitt September 20, 2017 - 9:18 pm

Just wondering if David Icove once worked for the FBI…….seems i remember a fire seminar in Johnson City,TN with Dr. Bass and Icove as well.

Cassandra Sproles September 21, 2017 - 12:52 pm

Yes! David Icove worked for the FBI for many years. It’s mentioned in the story “Finding the Truth in the Flames.”

Scott McCullough September 21, 2017 - 2:12 am

Simply, how does one go about donating to the body farm? This is just a personal perference of mine. I just can’t imagine wasting thousands of dollars just to be stuck in a couple of boxes and stuck in the ground forever and this is strange too, but i am a career firefighter and just the thought of being cremated is not for me. Also i am an organ donor and do not know if that matters in the end result of your students research? This is not just a passing thought, I have discussed this with my family and we r all in agreement. Legally I guess it would have to be stated in my living will. Thanks in advance for any information. Though i am only 50 and like everyone else plan on living another 50 years, i do understand that we are not promised tomorrow what we have today and i truly try to live by that….
Captain S. McCullough
Quint 2 Green Shift

Cassandra Sproles September 21, 2017 - 12:56 pm

Hi, Scott! Glad to hear you are interested in donating your body to the Forensic Anthropology Center. You can find out more about our body donation program by visiting, calling 865-974-4408, or emailing

Cassandra Sproles
Executive Editor

Melissa Graybeal February 21, 2019 - 5:05 am

Hello. I have been a body donor since 2012. I of course do not know my date of death. Is there any need to periodically check with The Body Farm to see if I am in “good standing” if you will?

Cassandra Sproles February 21, 2019 - 3:21 pm

Hi, Melissa! As long as you have your donor card you are in good standing. If you have any further questions, you can email them to
Cassandra Sproles
Executive Editor

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